Cataract surgery can repair the clouding over the lens of the eye that affects many people as they age.
During cataract surgery, the affected lens is removed and replaced by a plastic, clear lens. There are different surgical techniques used to remove the lens. One method of cataract surgery is called phacoemulsification (FAY-co-ee-mul-sih-fih-CAY-shun). Under local anesthesia, a surgeon uses high-frequency sound waves or ultrasound to break the lens into small pieces. The pieces are removed by suction through a small incision in the eye.
After the clouded lens - or cataract -- is removed, it may be replaced with a new, manmade lens called an intraocular lens. This procedure is called "intraocular lens implantation."
The manmade lens is selected to fit your eye and to help restore normal vision. Even if your natural lens is replaced with an intraocular lens, you probably will need a new eyeglass prescription.
Cataract surgery is usually done in a doctor's office, so you don't have to stay in the hospital. Doctors usually won't remove cataracts in both eyes at the same time. You will be scheduled for separate surgeries.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common operations performed in the U. S. and nearly 98% of all cataract surgeries are completed each year without serious complications. Though this type of surgery is very safe, you should discuss the risks with your ophthalmologist.
After cataract surgery, it is normal to feel itching and some mild discomfort. To combat this, your doctor may recommend that you take a pain reliever such as Tylenol. You may also have temporary fluid discharge from your eye and be sensitive to light for a short time following cataract surgery.
For a few days after cataract surgery, you will need to take medication in the form of eye drops to aid healing, prevent infection, and control the pressure inside your eye. Your surgeon may want you to avoid very strenuous activities for a short period after surgery, but most normal activities need not be restricted following cataract surgery.
Vision is usually improved the day after cataract surgery. Maximum improvement is usually achieved when new glasses are prescribed, about a month after cataract surgery.
In a minority of patients, a clouding occurs on the lens capsule months or years after cataract surgery. In this case, an office procedure using a laser can open a small hole to restore normal vision. Lens implants are permanent and ordinarily do not need to be replaced. They are good for the life of the patient.
Cataract surgery is covered by Medicare, insurance and HMOs.
Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute.
Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, WebMD, October 2004.
Last Editorial Review: 6/21/2005